Hiking in the mountains is always a great way to escape your busy everyday life. Nature is, in most cases, quite welcoming to us especially in the warmer months. However, there are a few things that might ruin your backpacking adventure. A 400-pound apex predator is definitely one of those things. Bears aren’t usually aggressive and won’t get out of their way to harm you but having the best bear spray by your side is always a good insurance policy in case you accidentally stumble across each other.
In this guide, we will go over some of the top models for this year, compare their most notable features and then go a little deeper into what makes a good bear spray and how exactly to use it…
Bear Sprays Comparison Chart
SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray
The Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray is one of the leading models out there for a few good reasons. First of all, it is large enough in volume to ensure 1.84oz of spray released per every 1-second burst. Each of those bursts will travel at the whopping 35 miles per hour, which is fast enough to stop any bear dead in its tracks. The maximum distance the spray cloud travels is 35 feet which is on par with most of the competition. If the 9.2 canister is too big for you, however, there is a smaller 7.9 oz canister which has a slightly shorter firing range and fewer grams per burst capacity. The large canister gets fully drained in just 5 seconds. While that isn’t ideal, it creates a big enough cloud to stop a 600-pound bear.
The Frontiersman bear spray is also EPA and Health Canada approved making it safe to use and effective against all the known bear types in North America. It will cause no permanent injuries to the bear, although it will strip it of its vision or sense of scent for a few hours. The spray itself isn’t flammable and is safe to use around camping areas.
The thing that I like the most about the Sabre Frontiersman bear spray is that it comes in a variety of packages. You can get the 9.2oz bottle only but there are 2-packs and 3-packs as well as packages with canisters and chest or belt holsters. There is also a package with a practice spray that gives you an idea of how far and strong the spray cloud can be with the real spray.
- 52 grams of spray per 1-second burst
- Can come with a chest or belt holster
- Has the option for a practice spray
- Very large firing range
- EPA and Health Cannada approved
- Causes no permanent injuries to bears
- Super effective against large bears
- Empties in only 5 seconds
- The smaller canister isn’t a good deal for your money
Counter Assault Bear Repellent Spray
With bear sprays there are a few important aspects – how strong the formula is, what is the effective firing range, and how long can you spray for. The Counter Assault Bear Repellent Spray has pretty much checked all the boxes. It is one of the best sprays out there mainly due to its ability to cover a huge distance and make a thick strong cloud between you and the bear. When it comes to firing this spray, it can reach distances of up to 40 feet and has a 7-second continuous spraying time which is more than all of its competitors with similar canister sizes. Speaking of sizes, this bear spray comes in 2 sizes – 8.1oz and 10.2 oz. You can also get packages with 2 of each. My recommendation would be going for the larger size as with bear sprays more is always better. The spray also comes with a tactical belt holster which is easy to use and allows you to quickly grab the spray.
The repellent meets all EPA requirements and is S.N.A.P. certified, making it both effective against all 8 types of bears in North America and safe for the environment, specifically for the ozone layer. The formula includes a max dosage of 2.0% capsaicinoid products mix which has the power to temporarily disable a bear. The formula works even on polar bears, although there is no known case of a bear spray used against a polar bear in the wild.
While the spray has a 4-year shelf life, there have been some reports of the materials not holding up properly to the test of time, so make sure you store it properly and not expose it to direct sunlight or heat for prolonged periods.
- Very large range (up to 40ft)
- Strong formula
- Works against all 8 types of bears
- Meets all EPA requirements
- 7-second depletion time
- Comes with a tactical belt holster
- Material durability is questionable
- Very expensive compared to other competitors
Udap Bear Spray
The Udap Bear Spray is again a top competitor to claiming the title for the most powerful bear spray on the market. It has similar characteristics to the previous two models in terms of its firing range, capsaicin concentration, and spray fog properties. One of the major downsides of this spray is that despite its 30ft range claims, it struggles to create a good mist at more than 10-15 feet if the weather conditions aren’t perfect. In other words, this isn’t an ideal option for windy conditions. The formula here is as strong as it can legally get, having 2.0% of capsaicin concentration inside.
The canister is 7.9oz putting it on the smaller side of the scale of most other bear sprays. It comes with a handy holster that can be attached to your bike. The issue with the holster is that it can sometimes be too tight and the canister will be hard to get out.
- Creates a powerful fog
- Has a decent range when it isn’t too windy
- Comes with a holster that can be attached to various surfaces
- Decently priced
- Durable construction
- The holster isn’t easy to use
- When removing the cap lock you can easily press the trigger
Tornado Bear Repellent Pepper Spray
Being one of the most expensive bear sprays out there, there is a lot to be expected from the Tornado Bear Repellent Pepper Spray. And in reality, it does check most of the boxes with a few minor exceptions. Let’s start with its spraying capacity first. It has the longest continuous spray out of the 6 sprays on this list. It lasts up to 9 seconds of continuous action and sprays up to 20 feet away from you. All that gives you a lot of burst spraying shots before you run out, or in the worst-case scenario you have 9 full seconds to spray the bear. The formula in this spray is specially designed to penetrate the bear’s fur even when it is wet. This is something many bear sprays struggle to accomplish.
Another feature that I really like about this spray is the pistol grip handle. The safety cap isn’t easily removed which can be both good and bad. Still, the trigger allows you to easy to short bursts of spraying that will help you conserve spray if you only want to deter a curious bear.
- Comes from a trusted brand
- Longest continuous spraying out of all bear sprays
- A powerful formula which penetrates wet bear fur
- easy to use pistol grip handle
- EPA approved
- Effective range isn’t too good
- A bit expensive
Guard Alaska Bear Repellent
The Guard Alaska Bear Repellent is an excellent value for your money. It comes in a 9oz bottle which is easy to use and has a 9-second continuous firing time. One of its standout features is the fog pattern it creates. It doesn’t have the biggest range at up to 20 feet but it creates a thick cloud of pepper spray that will stop the bear in its tracks and will disable its nose and eyes for more than 2 hours. With the canister, you also get a belt clip holster that is easy to carry and doesn’t get in your way when you need to quickly remove the bear spray.
One of the few downsides to that bear spray is that it has a lower capsaicin concentration than other EPA-approved bear sprays. At 1.33% it is almost twice as low as the maximum allowed in the industry which is 2.0%. Still, it works on all bear types in North America.
- Comes with a belt clip holster
- 9 seconds of continuous spraying time
- Works on all bears in North America
- Decent value for your money
- 9 oz canister
- Only 1.33% capsaicin concentration
Mace Brand Bear Attack Survival Kit
Last and maybe least is the Mace Bear Attack Survival Kit which includes a canister and a holster. The canister creates a spray pattern that reaches distances of up to 35 feet. The canister’s total volume can be emptied in 6 seconds which is on par with most of the competition. There is 260g of formula in the 9oz canister, meaning you average around 40-50grams of spraying per every 1-second burst you do if you only want to deter a bear that isn’t directly attacking you.
The canister is made in the USA and has a premium feel to it. It isn’t mad by mace, however, but by a Mace Brand which can be misleading. Still, the product has a higher than average quality and the holster it comes with is easy to carry around and use.
- Comes with a well-protecting holster
- 6 seconds of continuous spray
- 260 grams of formula
- Up to 35 ft of range
- EPA approved
- Isn’t powerful enough to work in windy conditions
- Not a good deal for your money
- Product isn’t made by Mace directly
Bear Sprays Buyer’s Guide
Nothing beats spotting a bear in its natural habitat, assuming you are far enough for it to be safe. Bears aren’t known for their aggression but are still some of the more unpredictable animals out there, especially when they feel like you’re a threat. That’s the main reason you don’t want to get too close and comfortable with them, even more so if they’re with cubs or scouting for food. On a particularly rare occasion, you might find yourself backed into a corner after accidentally stumbling upon a bear. This is when bear sprays come into play with their effectiveness.
Before we dive deeper into the features of these sprays and how to use them exactly, let’s find out more about the mechanism that keeps you well-protected in critical situations.
How Do Bear Sprays Work
Bear sprays are typically made of ground hot peppers put into a pressurized container with a mix of other compounds and gasses. The goal of the spray is to create a powerful mist that can have ranges of up to 40ft depending on the canister. Spraying the mist onto the bear’s line of attack will make the bear go through it and cover itself in the hot mix. That will, in turn, burn the bear’s nose and eyes and effectively deter it from pushing forward. That fairly simple process is oftentimes enough to make a bear abort its plans of attacking you. There haven’t been many documented cases of bear spray being used in the wild but in almost all of those the bears (brown bears, grizzlies, black bears) have been successfully deterred at first, with some bears coming back later.
Now, let’s take a look at the various features that define a well-made bear spray that is both effective and easy to use…
Bear Spray Features
Each modern bear spray is characterized by a few major factors. All of them play a vital role in its effectiveness and its ability to stop a bear dead in its tracks. Here are the most important aspects of a bear spray that you need to keep an eye out for:
- Spray distance & duration
- Weight (volume)
- Ease of use
Spray distance & duration
The spray distance is arguably the most important feature of any bear spray. The range of the spray can sometimes be the difference between a successfully deterred bear or an angry one that keeps on charging. Once a bear gets into a certain range (roughly 30-60 ft) you should consider trying to make it go away with a few quick sprays. That is why you need a bear spray that reaches distances up to 30-40 ft. There are some models that can reach up to 45 but anything above that would be unwise to believe. Spraying power is also a factor that should be taken into consideration. If you’re in a windy environment, the spray speed and concentration play a major role in the distance you will be able to cover with the spray cloud.
The spray duration is the period in which you can continuously spray until the canister is empty. Opt for models that offer more than 7-8 seconds of spray duration. as a rule of thumb, the longer the spray duration the better your chances will be against a potential bear attack. Remember to use the canister’s full volume only in case the bear is charging or attacking you. More on that later!
The weight of the bear spray directly correlated to its volume, which translates to more spray to work with! When it comes to bear sprays you shouldn’t think about weight savings at all. Look for the biggest possible canister that won’t be too inconvenient to carry around. Typically, the bigger the canister the more distance you can cover with a single spray
The formula of the bear spray mainly refers to its capsaicin concentration. You can see that marked as “CRC concentration” and it is mostly measured in percentage compared to the total volume. A typical CNC concentration is around 2.0%. The reason most bear sprays are topped out at 2.0% is because the EPA doesn’t allow higher capsaicinoids concentrations to be used. Apart from that, the higher the CRC percentage the better, so always look for the maximum-allowed 2.0%.
Ease of use
How easy it is to use will often determine how fast you can take out the spray, remove its safety loop and press the trigger. Smaller canisters are very easy to grab and use, although they will have limited functionality, especially in windy conditions. Never put the bear spray in your backpack as most bears out there won’t be polite enough to wait for you to unzip the bag and take it out in order to spray it in their face.
The best practice is to carry the canister in a holster near your chest or waist. Any place that is easily reachable and has a clear line of action between it and your hand is a good spot for the bear spray’s holster. A good holster will have multiple attachment options, good holding power and will be easy to open in a critical situation.
Bear sprays are often compared to pepper sprays but are they really the same thing or is one of them is much stronger than the other? Let’s find out!
Difference Between Bear Sprays and Regular Pepper Sprays
In terms of their canister design, volume, and effective range, there isn’t much of a difference between pepper sprays and bear sprays. Although it would be fair to note that bear sprays typically have a larger range and form a larger mist/cloud while pepper sprays made for self-defense have a slightly narrower effective range.
While both pepper sprays and bear sprays use the same active compound (oleoresin capsicum) the concentration is vastly different for both sprays. Typically pepper sprays have a concentration of around 10% while bear sprays a much weaker with a concentration of around 1.5-2.0%. This means that bear sprays won’t be as effective against humans as traditional pepper sprays. Pepper sprays, on the other hand, might prove useful against a bear attack, albeit they won’t be as effective in dispersing their agent in the air as a normal bear spray.
How And When To Use A Bear Spray
Using bear sprays doesn’t require a particular skillset. It just takes a few simple steps that are easy enough to remember even in a stressful situation. The three major steps to follow here are:
- Step One – Pull out your bear spray canister and remove its safety clip. ost canisters have a safety clip/tab that prevents it from accidental sprays when you’re hiking. You need to grab the top-mounted trigger with your thumb and pull out the safety clip which is most often in the form of a loop behind the trigger.
- Step Two – Now it is time to spray the bear that is heading into your direction. Hold the canister with both your hands and air directly towards the bear but slightly downwards so that you cover its forward trajectory. Aiming down at a 30-degree angle is going to ensure that your canister will fire directly at its head for the duration of the spraying. You are also creating a mist in front of the bear that the bear has to go through, ultimately covering itself with the spray’s formula.
- Step Three – Keep spraying until you empty the canister. Spraying in short 1-2 second bursts will ensure that you make the most out of the spray’s volume. Walk back slowly while you are doing your 1-2 second shots. If the bear pushes through the mist, aim directly for the face and empty the canister in a single burst. Always beware of its volume and spray duration, as most bear sprays last around 10 seconds.
This is the “how”. The equally important question of “when” is a subject of debate among professional hikers and wildlife conservationists. There are a few scenarios that all require a different approach. The most common scenario is when a bear is near you in the 40-70 feet range. This is slightly outside the range of most modern bear sprays and is, therefore, an ineffective distance to use the spray against the bear. Still, if the bear gets closer, below the 30-40 feet range, you should begin spraying it and try to deter it from coming any closer. Remember, using the bear spray should be seen as a last resort and should be done only if the bear gets dangerously close to you or your group.
The second scenario is when a bear is already charging towards you. This requires the immediate use of bear spray as I explained in the steps above. Spray slightly downwards and try creating a mist in front of the bear’s line of attack. The last scenario is when the bear is already on top of you. Besides curling up, using all of your canister’s volume has shown significant success at reducing the bear’s aggression level and ultimately raising your survival chances.
Bear Spray Safety Tips
As I mentioned, using a bear spray should be your last resort, only when the bear is 40-70 feet away and isn’t showing any signs of leaving. Still, the first thing you need to do when you are that close to a bear is to remain calm. Not all bears are aggressive and definitely not all of them see you as potential food or danger. Staying calm and not running is absolutely mandatory if you don’t want to give out the wrong impression. The canister should be at an arms reach all of the time and the path to it shouldn’t be obstructed by clothes or gear.
When spraying, there are a few things to take into consideration. First, never spray downwind. That will only result in the spray coming back towards you. If that happens, however, remember that the effect of it will be temporary. The more important thing is to re-position yourself so that you are spraying with the wind towards the bear, and not against the wind.
Besides those things, you should always keep in mind the other usual factors that are important for any pressurized spray. Avoid leaving it in closed hot spaces such as your car and always make sure it hasn’t expired, as its formula can be much weaker after it has passed its expiry date. One last thing that I often see people do is to test their bear spray near their camping spot. Never do that. Apart from the fact that you’re wasting what could be a life-saving supply of bear spray, you are also creating a strong scent that can actually attract bears rather than deter them,
While there are certain steps you need to follow in order to ensure your safety when using a bear spray, you wouldn’t deny that avoiding a bear altogether is the best scenario, right? let’s talk about that now…
Avoiding Bear Attacks
Avoiding bear attacks isn’t really hard and it falls on a few major principles. The first and most important principle is never getting in between bear cubs and their mom. Even if you see cubs that are alone and seem harmless, know that their mother is always nearby and won’t be particularly happy when she sees you playing with her cubs. Another thing to always keep in mind is food preparation and storage. Always cook at least a hundred yards from where you will sleep and store your food equally far away from the camp. It might seem like common sense but some people often forget to not store and keep food in their tents. Using bear bags and bear canisters for all the scented items and food in your camp is a good idea, although many people argue that it isn’t as effective as you might think.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Bear Sprays Effective?
Using bear spray to avoid an undesirable encounter has shown some of the highest levels of effectiveness out of all the possible deterrent. There have been studies showing that bear sprays work effectively more than 90% of the times with the remaining 10% only resulting in minor injuries. The most likely reason for the lack of 100% efficacy is weather conditions. A very moist environment or high winds can reduce the accuracy of the spray ultimately making you miss the bear’s face. That will most likely still make the bear change its aggressive course but won’t fully deter it from its initial task.
Using a firearm, on the other hand, is known to be highly ineffective against bears. Your best-case scenario is killing the bear but that is only if you have a powerful enough weapon and you accurately hit your target. That isn’t the case most of the time, however, and you will most likely end up just making things worse for yourself.
Are bear sprays harmful to the bear?
The main effect of the bear spray is to irritate the mucose membrane of the bear’s eyes and nose. All that will do is leave the bear in pain and make it run away. Those effects typically last up to 2 hours and then go away with no lasting damage done to the bear’s eyes, nose or other parts.
Is pepper spray the same as bear spray?
While they both contain the same active chemical, they are different in their nature. Pepper spray is also a lot stronger and can sometimes have a similar effect on bears, although it isn’t designed specifically for that purpose.
Do bear sprays work on humans?
Bear sprays have a lower oleoresin capsicum concentration compared to pepper sprays so while they will be effective against bears, they might not be good enough for humans, especially if there is wind, excessive moisture or other environmental factors around you that will prevent the spray from being fully effective.
Having the best bear spray by your side might be a matter of life and death in a situation where you are face to face with this large animal. When hiking outdoors you need to remember that you are in the bear’s home and respecting its habitat as much as possible is always something to keep in the back of your head. Most bears will rarely attack if unprovoked but bring bear spray along is always a good way to make sure that everyone will leave the situation unharmed. Remember to pay attention to features like the range of firing of the spray as well as its capsaicin concentration.